Members of The Beatles‘ fan club were rewarded with a special seasonal gift each Christmas between 1963 and 1969 – their very own 7″ Beatles Christmas records delivered to their doors.
The Christmas discs were the brainchild of Tony Barrow, The Beatles’ press officer.
The group were overwhelmed by the volume of mail sent to their fan club, and it was impossible to reply to the tens of thousands of letters, so an annual message was a good way of keeping in touch with fans and showing them they were not forgotten by John, Paul, George and Ringo.
The first disc was a light-hearted affair full of wordplay, puns and the madcap humour for which the Fab Four were well-known.
It opened with the group singing Good King Wencelas (“When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and crispy”) and included a message from John saying, “this is John speaking, with his voice”, and noting that he would love to respond to all the fan letters he receives but hasn’t enough pens.
Paul wished everyone a “Happy Crimble and Merry New Year” and implored fans not to send any more jelly babies as the boys had “gone right off” them (crates full of the sweets had arrived after the group had mentioned how much they liked them).
30,000 copies of the disc were produced and sent to fan club members in the first week of December.
The 1964 record found the boys in high spirits (having conquered America and Australia during the year and appeared in their first film, A Hard Day’s Night). A Goons-style song (Can You Wash Your Father’s Shirt?) ended the record.
The 1965 offering was a chaotic affair, held together by self-mocking acapella versions of Yesterday and a spoof of the popular radio request show, Family Favourites.
In 1966, the Christmas record – recorded between sessions for Strawberry Fields Forever – was given the title Pantomime: Everywhere It’s Christmas and featured several unrelated sketches and a story involving “a rare cheese” and “Podgy the Bear”, along with a short music hall style song called Please Don’t Bring Your Banjo Back (I Don’t Know Where it’s Been).
Gone were the personal messages to the fans.
Christmas Time Is Here Again! was the title of the 1967 fan club record, built around the concept of a (fictitious) band called The Ravellers auditioning for a BBC radio show. It was a rambling, incoherent affair taking in a game show (where the prize was a trip to Denver) and a song about jam jars for a woman in hospital in Blackpool.
There were two more Christmas discs (both produced by the madcap Kenny Everett), but as the boys began pursuing different interests, the contributions were recorded separately and cobbled together. There were confusing musical collages, poems from John (Jock and Yono and Once Upon a Pool Table, telling the tale of “a short-haired Butcher’s boy by the way of Ostergrad”) and even a performance of Nowhere Man by Tiny Tim on the ukulele.
To listen to the Christmas fan club records today is to be reminded of the excitement, joy and optimism that they generated.
In 2017, the fan club records were reissued on vinyl as part of a limited-edition box set called The Christmas Records.